Given the tough draw, Gainesville knew it would have its hands full with Blessed Trinity in their first-round Class 6A state soccer playoff match.
Sure enough, the two teams battled each other in a tough end-to-end contest, with both teams unable to capitalize on some big-time scoring chances.
Finally, however, Nick Apple was finally able to break through in the game’s 70th minute to lift the No. 4 Titans to a 1-0 victory over the ninth-ranked Red Elephants on Friday night at City Park Stadium.
That goal proved decisive only because of outstanding play by both goalkeepers – Michael Roth for Blessed Trinity and Gainesville’s Wilberth Orellana Torrez – including a clutch save of a penalty kick by the latter that gave his team a chance in the second half.
But the Red Elephants (13-5-1) were unable to solve Roth despite numerous opportunities, and Apple’s late goal send the Titans (15-3) into a second-round matchup next with South Paulding, a winner over Allatoona by an identical 1-0 score, on Friday.
“It’s unfortunate,” Gainesville coach Elie Vivant said. “One of the sides was going to be sad (Friday) night, and unfortunately, it was us. I didn’t think we played a bad game. Between us and Lanier and (Blessed Trinity’s) region, we have six of the top 10 in the state. … I think that should be a third-round game or something like that.
“We (still) had opportunities, and we have to convert those. To win games, you have to score, and (Friday), we couldn’t score.”
Indeed, Gainesville had two quality chances early one, with Cristofer Lopez-Ortiz moving in on a 2-on-1 break with Diogenese Lemus Correa in the seventh minute, and Gabriel Ixcoy Calel setting up Correa for another chance on the right wing two minutes later.
But Roth was equal to the task both times, as well as with his diving save to rob Calel from inside the penalty area in the 36th minute.
“In the first half, we had two breakaways,” Vivant said. “We have to put one away, at least. If we put one away, it changes the whole game. Instead of them sitting, they have to play the game (with less patience). Unfortunately, that’s what they’re good at. They wait, they wait, they wait, … until they put one in.”
Meanwhile, Torrez had a big save of a one-touch shot from Hugh Lahood in the 17th minute, and got some help from fullback Endy Alacron to clear away a loose ball in the goal box to send the game into halftime still scoreless.
Torrez’s biggest save came less than eight minutes into the second half, when Gainesville was whistled for a foul inside the penalty area, which gave Sam Jimenez a chance to put Blessed Trinity on top.
But the senior dove to his left to smother the ensuing penalty kick to keep the game scoreless, and give the Red Elephants a little boost of energy that led to two more golden opportunities.
A throw in from Lopez-Ortiz sent Christian Perez Sesma in for a shot from 30 yards out that appeared ticketed for the back post, only to be snuffed out by a diving Roth in the 51st minute.
Just three minutes later, Correa made his way into the penalty area after a nifty run that saw him wind his way through the Blessed Trinity defense, only to have his point-blank shot barely deflected over the end line by a defender.
But only a few minutes later, Jack Chambers set up for what appeared to be an innocent-looking free kick from about 50 yards out on the left wing.
His long ball made its way through the penalty area to the right wing, where Apple outleapt a couple of Gainesville defenders to get enough of it to send it inside the back post before Torrez could dive to it, giving the Titans 1-0 lead with just 10:52 remaining.
The Red Elephants had a few chances late in the game, with the best coming from Sesma who got to a clearing attempt on a header by one of the Blessed Trinity defenders about 25 yards out in the middle of the field.
However, his shot sailed over the crossbar, and the Gainesville simply ran out of time.